Sonia Kellogg-Solano

Title

Sonia Kellogg-Solano

Description

In this Interview, Sonia Kellogg-Solano talks about growing up with parents and grandparents in multiple unions. She discusses her dad being the "strong arm" for the newspaper union, involving destroying property. She credits her father for opening the door for Mexicans and Latinos to join unions. She also discusses the safety of her neighborhood on Porter and Hubbard along with the racial makeup.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

3/23/2019

Rights

Detroit Historical Society

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Sonia Kellogg-Solano

Brief Biography

Sonia Rose Kellogg Solano was born in Detroit December 15th, 1977. Her mother was a midwife and her father was a union carpenter and helped with newspaper union strikes. Her grandfather was a member of the farm workers union.

Interviewer's Name

Alex Darrow

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan

Date

3/23/2019

Transcriptionist

Alex Darrow

Transcription

AD: This is Alex Darrow recording for History of Detroit the neighborhoods of Detroit project. I am here with Sonia, can you say your name please?
SK: My name is Sonia – my maiden name is Sonia Rose Kellogg Solano
AD: Can you spell that?
SK: Sonia Rose Kellogg Solano
AD: Thank you. Where and when were you born?
SK: I was born in Detroit. In 1977, December 15th in 1977.
AD: Which neighborhood were you born in?
SK: I was actually born in the row houses on Porter and Hubbard, we were all born at home because my mother was a midwife.
AD: Why did you choose than neighborhood?
SK: I did not choose that neighborhood, that was where my parents settled down.
AD: What did they do for a living?
SK: My mother came from – came from Vermont when she was about 19 and moved into Porter on the rowhouses there, and in the early 70s she was one of the – a midwife that delivered babies for some of the underground people that didn’t/couldn’t go to hospitals. Some women at the time, some were Harikrishnas, some of the people, you know the people who were on the holistic – all the way from you know – anybody that was people from during the civil rights movement, they’re not you know – or from farther into the 70s - that were really under the radar that needed births, that’s who she worked with into the late 80s she did – so she did birthing there. So she worked as a midwife, mostly, then my parents has eight kids and later, when I was like in middle school my mom went through the apprenticeship program and became a union carpenter. So she retired from the carpenters union. My dad was/is a character, but he also was a union carpenter and then became the first, like, you know business agent for the carpenters union when I was a kid. So he was a business agent organizer for the carpenters union. He was one of – So he was one of the big, in the old ways of the union kind of back in the day. So him and them were kind of some of the strong arms of the union, carpenters union back before – I don’t know that they function like that anymore, but it was real fun.
AD: When you say “strong arms of the union”, what do you mean?
SK: So like when the newspapers went on strike, for instance, I don’t even remember what years they were, probably like the early 90s the Free press and the Detroit News went on strike. Those were all union newspaper shops, and the carpenters didn’t really have anything to do with it, but thy were going to go and become non-union newspapers. They basically destroyed every newspaper box from here to where they could get to – for – and I think they were wanted by – some of them were wanted by the FBI between, you know, my uncles and other union members for doing some really illegal stuff. I think that when – I think when I remember stories I remember going to picket lines and I think I know for sure that we had like tire spikes and things for people that would go across picket lines that were bringing in non-union workers. They did kinda like beat up some non-union workers that were like bosses of non-union – that were like – that had originally been union, and then they fired all the union guys and brought in a bunch of non-union ones, they probably didn’t have work sites that were very well put together anymore, kinda things.
AD: What did you think about all of this when you were observing?
SK: I – I mean we went to a lot of picket lines with our parents, like it was something that we did, and we understood very in-depth the need for the union, the need for the understanding of how long our family’s tradition was working with the union. My grandfather, Juan Cecilano, was also – was working with the farm workers union, and organizing the farm workers in Michigan when they came here. So he was very instrumental in those unions, so my dad grew up in a union family, and then kind of moved in “that’s kind of just the way we did things”. So we understood what the alternative would be, if – if they didn’t force people to keep the unions functioning, like, on their terms or our terms, kind of a thing, so it was “good or bad, they were going to need it”. And if they didn’t have union, and they chose to go the other way, it wasn’t going to be without a fight, or easily done. It wasn’t just like “Oh, well, sorry”, you know, “too bad you guys, we’ll see if we can find somebody else”. There were going to be consequences for large corporations or businesses deciding to go non-union.
AD: Did your parents ever destroy any city property with you in the vicinity or did they try to hide that from you?
SK: Oh they didn’t try to hide it from us but I guess that’s kind of a through the history they definitely my dad, my mom didn’t as much doing stuff, but my dad definitely. Um, definitely destroyed lots and lots of property. Lot of personal and public property. For the cause and it did not have to be it was not even necessary for them, it was for any union that they were going to serve, they were going to do, that needed help on a larger scale. They kind of functioned with all of them. I don’t remember doing a lot of UAW stuff, but any of the trades in particular, other trades, they were very connected with other trades in their in supporting, so it didn’t matter if it was electricians that were, you know, electricians that were picketing or boycotting or on strike, my dad would still take us for or we would gather people, organize people, to go escort those picket lines all the same just so that there were more people and less tactics on how to, um, any means necessary help you know the companies it was not going to accept without losing some leverage of their own. They were going to lose some things if they chose to continue and it wasn’t just like employees.
AD: Were you proud of your parents doing the work that they did?
SK: Um, I would say that I thought and I still think and now my parents are old, my dad is already in his 70s. I think at the time, I was impressed by how fearless he was and I was also, like when the FBI was looking him because they were breaking up the newspaper boxes, so my uncle that he did it with has passed on now so I’m not really worried about it and my dad you can’t get much from him now either, he can barely walk, I think at the time we thought it was hilarious because the FBI was all out looking and how was it possible that every single box, from her to all across the county, every time they delivered the newspapers all the newspapers were getting destroyed or redelivered back to the They had a technique for opening the boxes and they would take all the newspapers and they would put them back on the newspapers front lawn or chuck them on to the front lawn or they would all get thrown away or they would take them out and set them on top of the boxes so people could have them for free. And, that went on for a long time
AD: How many years?
SK: I don’t remember if it was year, I just know that it was a while, a long time, it was so bad that they broke, there was not a newsstand. It was their Sunday thing. They would literally stop the delivery drivers, if they didn’t break their cars up or let the air out of their tires. There was all kinds of things that could happen. It was what they did for Sunday morning shits and giggles. And good time on Saturday night because my family was pretty heavy and they were drinkers for sure. It was the equivalent of country cow tipping, you know. They were already men and we were already grown, we were teenagers at the time so they were not young kids, they were very calculated in doing what they did. But that’s pretty much what my dad did up until he got hurt. He put a lot of people in the union, he started making very very good wages in the carpenter’s union. There’s a lot of guys that say if it wasn’t for your dad, I wouldn’t have gotten into the union. He saved my family and were able to elevate people from poverty into middle class because he opened doors for Mexicans and for Latinos to get into the unions where they had not been very well accepted. Most of the Mexicans were only able to get non-union jobs for a long, long time. There’s some that worked, but it wasn’t easy to get into the union if you weren’t white pretty much. And they weren’t treated as well and it was definitely a thing.
AD: How did you dad get into the union?
SK: My dad got into the union from our neighbors the Whirleys that were across the street and Mrs Whirley when my mom came here when she was 19, Mrs Whirley was the neighborhood crossing guard for all the kids that went to Maybury Elementary and her husband was in the union and all of her sons were in the union, So her husband was a big deal in Walbridge Aldinger at the time. He had already been involved for many many years so he basically vouched for my dad which at the time as a carpenter and I guessed just figured it out and my dad just figured it out and he just learned to do scaffolding. My dad was very buff, very very athletic, very strong so he basically went on to crew where they build scaffold, so it didn’t really take skill it just took somebody that was muscular and the manpower and then eventually he learned the skills and he became a very respected carpenter as he was older but at the beginning it was just, the Whirleys got my dad into the union and it was many years later that he became a business agent or actually was an organizer is what his position was technically
AD: So you said talking about your neighbors, row houses in Dearborn, what was that area like growing up?
SK: The Lugels that bamce before us, they lived in the row houses before us and they had 10 kids or something between all their families. The apartments were side by side houses they had 4 bedrooms, 1 bathroom and huge living room and a huge foyer and a dining room and a kitchen and then full basements and we had connected backyards. So because they were 4 bedrooms units that were so big, and they were cheap, I think my parents paid $300, $400/month back in the day for rent, so it was cheap, but um, or less probably, they were attractive to all big families. My parents had 8 kids, there were other families that had 8, 10, 12, 6 kids so literally when you driving down our block, there were so many kids playing out in the street so depending where you from, we could go from the alley that was almost to Scotten to like on our bikes when we were little, you could go from the alley on Scotten to the block and you had to stop at Hubbard Street so we were allowed to go to back and forth through those areas. We also got to also because there were so many moms and so many big families, we couldn’t just listen to our parents, we also knew that so like it we’re going down there, down to the other block, there were other families that were there and other grandmas that were on the porch that lived on the porch all day, they basically sat there all day, if we were doing anything wrong, they would yell at us and we better listen and we didn’t mouth off so Amelia Durand lived a couple blocks down and the lady that lived next to them was Rau Ruppee there’s Skeens or Hall or something and my brother ended up marrying the girl down the block and then we the Tulleys lived on our block, they were a huge family also, there were just huge families that are all now iconic huge SW families, all lived at someplace on our block in that area. The Curtis’ were there so there were tons of kids everywhere, everywhere in the street, in the alleys. We played kick the can, we all played baseball at the park with Morris Blackbell, I’m not sure if you guys have heard from Morris Blackbell yet. He was a baseball coach for Clark Park. He is still out there and I think he was out there and I think now he has literally been coaching for free, starting with Tball for now I think 50 years, 50 or 60 years, every summer religiously, the same program. Get there 10:00 for this one, 11:00 for that one, fast pitch, he’s taught baseball to every kid in this area of SW that’s come through Clark Park. So there were always things to do, we hung out in Clark Park that was our area. Before it was the nice Clark Park, it was different then, but we there were just a lot of kids, so many kids. And, we had the Western High School, the Western HS courts that were there so there was a whole lot of stories about that. And there was Maybury were the schools that were close by and because we lived so close to the schools, it also attracted a lot of families because we were literally within walking distance of all schools, an elementary, a middle and a high school. Because it was dense, those are some of the schools that were so dense, those are some of the schools that have remained opened. It wasn’t because those were some of the schools even in the worse downfall of SW, our neighborhood was always at about 99% occupancy. It was almost impossible to get one of those houses, one of the row houses, and then any house in the vicinity was like, you had to know somebody was moving out of the house and you had to know them to move in to a house in the area. That is like the Hubbard Farm area of Detroit, that whole part Hubbard, Finewood, Bagley area, those were all the neighbohood that we kind of road in when we got older. That was our little hood area.
Gotcha, what kind of stores did you go to growing up?
When I was, when I lived in the corner building next to the alley, there was a building there that had been an old bakery, I believe, but it was already closed by the time I was born it was an abandoned building, and like literally next to us. We went down to Shawn’s Party Store that was at Vinewood and Porter and Sam was the owner, who is still the owner, like we, at the time, he knew all of us and all of the adults and who was the good kids and who was the bad kids. If we need to buy something for our parents, alcohol or cigarettes and they could send us there with a letter and Sam would send us with so and so for this and so and so for that Mr Whirley they could send us with a letter and say I was buying something for the Mr Whirley. Probably could we get away with buying something for ourselves and giving him a letter anyways? Probably, I mean as he’s gotten older the rules got changed, but back when were kids it wasn’t the same, you could literally take a letter from your parent to buy cigarettes or beer from the store. [Chuckles] My parents were, my mom, my dad was adamant, he wasn’t allowed to send us to the store to do those things, but some of our other friends, their parents could, so I know that we did frequently take letters from our parents to Sam, so it was pretty funny, but that would have been like early 80s, at the time so that we also went across the park there was a Latino market, I don’t remember what it was called now, right now it’s a boxing ring in that same building. The YMCA was open so I, we, Mary Durant had a membership, we were too poor, we didn’t the money with so many kids. We were really really little while it was still open. Mary Durant had a membership to the YMCA so she used to take me and Amelia over there and they had things like saunas. We did things, they had dances as teenagers at the Y. Like, they started to open it up to other people. We had Armando’s down at the other side of Clark Park so if we were going to buy a dinner or something, like you know, when you are kids, sometimes your parents would give you money and you’d go over to Armando’s to buy food. The bakery came later. We would walk up into Mexicantown and to the Bagley Restaurant to get food with our friends back in the day. I mean those were the major places in the, I mean there were a lot of other stores you went to for certain things. I walked everywhere when I was a kid. My parents were very chill, like compared to how I am with my children, my parents were pretty much like I am going with so and so, I’m going to so and so’s house and after school I would walk my friends that lived over on Casdrain and past the other side of Livernois. I think it was at 14 my first job was at Family Treats on Springwells and I lived on Porter and I would walk from Porter all the way after school, from middle school, all the way to Springwell for my 3 hour shift and then we would either catch the bus back or my parents would pick me up or if it was a 3-6 shift then I would just walk back after my shift which is about a 45 minute walk. And I don’t think my parents thought anything of it, that’s where I wanted to work. That was the only place anyone of that age group could work. So the Finiches, James and Tammy Finich, they really made it able for us to be able to work. It was just different times. i used to go to my friend’s house and my parents would be like 3 weeks, a week later in the summer time. Call me every few days to let me know you’re alive! You know, there were no cell phones, so we had to find someone’s house phone and you called your parents and were like “hey, let mom and dad know I’m at this person’s house over on so and so” and if you hadn’t called they’d roll up every so often and they’d be like “hey kid what’s going on? you haven’t called” My mom would get mad and you gotta come and help clean the house or some shit, you know, it was some kind of randomness, but it was just a different that was kind of, when I was a teenager was when early when some of the gangs were very very prevalent. At that time they were more a lot more active and noticeable than they are now. That was, again, early to mid 90s, so you definitely had to know who your friends were and what neighborhoods you could go into. If you claimed any gang in particular you could go just anywhere. I was not in any gang in particular, although I had friends, and hung out with and run in crews with all kinds of different people. It was something that I was fascinated by the gangs and the differences in them as a teenager, but not to be in it, but more for how they functioned which sounds really more like, “you’re lying,” but I was really kind of a nerdy kid so it really really fascinated me how it functioned more than and understanding what they did was really important to me or I knew it would be important to me at some point in my life so I have a very in depth understanding of how and the differences of how those gangs functioned as a teenager that I learned as a teenager from how I learned from hanging out with all kind of different people. I had lot of friends all over the place that I lived with and stayed with for weeks on end, so it’s was little bit different.
AD: You had lots of different friends from what it sounds like and lots of different groups that they were parts of, some of whom might have been more lawful than others, did this never impact your feeling of safety?
SK: Um yah, I was in houses that were like, I was at my friend’s house on Casgrain and the house got shot up so I was literally laying on the couch and my head was just below where the armrest would be on the couch and just about 5” above where my head was there was a bullet hole that was, I don’t know, like once it went through the wall the hole was probably a 5” hole in the wall 6” above my head on the couch that I was laying on. So yah, we felt not safe at that time and then you find out who did it, and why the did it, and you find out it was somebody else that you knew and you were like, “why are you there?” and they are like, “oh we didn’t know”, or “it wasn’t meant for you for your guy, they weren’t supposed to shoot that house up they were supposed to shoot a different house” that was the neighbor’s house so there were stray bullets. I was pretty fearless, so I did a lot of shit when I was a kid that most people, with gangs and against gangs, that most people would not probably would not have done. From all kinds of things, I was in the newspaper as a kid a lot, for organizing, for doing community work and activities and my own involvement in Girl Scouts, cause I was a Girl Scout until I was 17, you know all kinds of things so I experienced the gamut. Did I ever, I remember walking with some of my girlfriends to parties that were over at Lafayette Hall when I was like 14 and I was supposed to be staying night at my girlfriend's house across the street, at Stacey Curtis’ house or say one of the other girls and we would literally sneak out of the house at 12:00 and go to parties that were on the other side of town and then walk back at like 2:00 in the morning and I was in my young teenage years. I don’t think we had a feeling, like we knew it was a possibility, but it never, we didn’t have cell phones. The only thing that I always knew is that I know somebody or a family or had a friend on a block from here to Springwells, somewhere that if, I could get to and run to and knock on the door that would open up at any time.. Our families were so big and I had so many friends that was really the only way that, like that was my safety net in my head. Was, well, on every block I know somebody. If anything happens, I could go to somebody’s house. Or somebody would open me up. That was the only security. [Laughs] Guess that wasn’t a good plan!
AD: Did anything ever happen to you that made you worry for your safety when you were traipsing around the city?
SK: I remember one time, I was at Livernois, no it wasn’t Livernois, I was on Junction and maybe St Hedwig area and I was walking from a soccer game or some kind of a game, maybe I was playing softball at St Hedwig at the time, I might have been and I was walking home from St Hedwig park back to my house and I remember a guy, in a car, we were standing there and he flashed us in this car. That was the worse thing, they’d pull up and you’d be walking and they would show you themselves, like expose themselves to you. That was the weirdest thing. So we wouldn’t really worry about them. So like now there’s this human trafficking/kidnapping, where before it was just a lot of guys would beep at you and they would ask you to get in the car and they would ask you to get in the car and they be like, “oh you’re so cute, can I have your number?” and “what’s your name?” and so like you’d have to ignore people along the route. But I never really was worried. Except for there was that one time, so my dad was obviously a character, right? I was going to Maybury and it was me and my younger sisters so I would have been in 5th grade and my younger sisters would have been in K and 1st grade but we would all walk across the park together and I remember we had just transferred from out of Catholic school cause I went to Holy Trinity and St. Vince’s before and that was my first year in public school and we were walking across the park and a guy was like in a long trench coat, and he like opened, I didn’t see it at first, my younger sister did, she was like “that guy just showed” you know “that guy just showed us he pee pee” and I was like, “What?!” He turned around, this guy was completely, he had socks on, and he had a shirt on but it was kind of short but he didn’t have any pants on at all and he just had this long jacket on. It was during the spring already and we went home and said, there’s a guy in the park he doesn’t have any pants on. So my dad took a maple stick, that was one of his sticks or maple or pine, it was maple or pine, pine I think, it was made from a pine tree that they use for finish carpentry, but it was long, it was like 3 foot long I think, he had the handle, like shaved down, so it could be used sort of like a bat, I suppose, and I know that he beat the hell out of that guy from one end of the park to the other, and they guy ran over by where the girls were practicing softball at the other side and he had already flashed them. He pretty much left that guy without a face until the police got there. And we were all there. There were a bunch of kids there and he did not in fact have pants on. The police came and I think they beat the shit out of the guy again and they put him in the car and were like, “alright Mr. Solano we’ll see ya later.”
AD: So their...
SK: And I don’t know that, I know nothing ever came of it
AD: Did the guy ever come back?
SK: No, no. I’m pretty sure the police said they were going to take him to the hospital. He was a white dude, he was’t from our neighborhood. He was just some random creeper that was in the park, for no particular reason.
AD: You said “white dude” in a way that struck me. What was the kind of makeup of your neighborhood growing up?
SK: Our neighborhood was a very very strong mixture of everything. So there were white people that were from our neighborhood, that were organic. So like the Whirleys were white but they were Southern, they would be self-proclaimed hillbillies. That were from Appalachia, they came here from the Appalachian Mountains to work in the factories or work for Ford or work for the union up here. So they came up here because they came from non-union states so that’s why they settled here. And then the Tully’s were also white, the same thing, but they were like “hood” white, there’s a whole different, as opposed to, there are people that you know that are organically from the neighborhood, that was the Polish, there were lots of Polish families, our neighborhood wasn’t as Polish, like the Polish people were more in the St Hedwigs area or the central area, there were more Polish there that were old families that had been there for a long time. I guess you knew everybody and then were a lot of Mexican, but my mom was Kellogg and she was white and my dad was Mexican. And there were some black families, but very few black families, maybe, well Mary Stewart lived in our building and she was the first black person to live on our block, like they were one of the first black families that I remember growing up. There weren’t, when we went to school, when I went to Holy Trinity and St Vincent’s there some too, were probably 3 or 4 other black kids in our classes. When we, when I went to Earhart and Maybury, there some too, most of the blacks that were in our school or the middle school or the high school, were all, a lot of them took buses into the neighborhood from like the boot area, from over in Schaeffer area if they didn’t want to go to school at Southwestern, or that came down from the Michigan Livernois area, you know in the number streets or all the number streets that were up on the other side of Michigan, those kids were all came to our high school too and especially after Murray Wright closed over there as the schools started to close, people started coming into the schools that were from other areas that weren’t just our neighborhood. I can’t really give a strong number, but we were probably in the 60 percentile of Hispanic at the time, or Mexican, more Mexican than Puerto Ricans definitely.
AD: And when you were growing up?
SK: Growing up there were mostly more Mexicans and then there were still some of the white families that were there. We had more white people in our neighborhood particularly than a lot of the other neighborhoods did. So, we weren’t as, but we had some people, our neighbors were the Guiterrez and they were a new immigrant family, meaning their parents did speak any English at all.
AD: How did the makeup of your neighborhood change as time went on?
[Transcription ends at 35:09]

Search Terms

Detroit, Michigan, Unions, Mexican, Latino, Latinx

Citation

“Sonia Kellogg-Solano,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed December 2, 2020, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/742.

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